Kaiser Permanente has parted ways with a nurse whose Facebook comments about Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man killed by Sacramento police on March 18, incited a social media firestorm after an activist put them in the spotlight.
The comment: “Yeah but he was running from the police jumping over fences and breaking in peoples houses … why run??!!! He deserved it for being stupid.”
Activist Christina Arechiga told The Sacramento Bee earlier this week that she was so disgusted by the statement from a woman named Faith Linthicum that she went to her Facebook profile to learn more about her. Many such comments come from people outside the region, Arechiga said, and she wanted to know whether this one did as well.
She said she was shocked to discover that not only did Linthicum live in the Sacramento region but she also worked as a nurse in labor and delivery at Kaiser Permanente’s Roseville Medical Center. People of color were unwittingly entrusting their infants to this woman, Arechiga said, and their insurance dollars were paying her salary.
She snapped pictures of Linthicum's profile and three of her comments, then shared all of it on Facebook. In the post, Arechiga stated: “How can we trust our lives, the lives of our black and brown babies to these people? Nurses are supposed to help people not be happy when people die.”
Using Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other social media, a growing number of activists are using social media to call out user comments and actions they see as racist, sexist or in any other way discriminatory. The trend raises numerous workplace questions about how employers should deal with workers who speak their minds in the digital public square.
Kaiser told The Sacramento Bee earlier this week that Linthicum was on administrative leave, pending investigation of the matter.
Late Thursday evening, the company provided this statement: "Kaiser Permanente does not tolerate hate or discrimination and has a long history of embracing diversity and inclusion – it remains a place where we welcome everyone. We want to emphasize that the comments expressed by this employee, who is no longer with the organization, do not in any way reflect Kaiser Permanente’s views or actions."
Asked whether Kaiser had terminated Linthicum, spokesman Edwin Garcia said that Kaiser would not discuss personnel matters.
Attempts to reach Linthicum through her employer, her union, social media and other means were unsuccessful. Her Facebook posts now are visible only to people she accepts as friends.
Arechiga said Linthicum had messaged her via Instagram, asking whether she had posted something about racism. In the note, Arechiga said, Linthicum told her that she planned to contact an attorney about a defamation lawsuit.
Arechiga said she’s been interested in police shootings since her cousin, Ernest Duenez Jr., was shot 13 times and killed by a police officer in Manteca in 2011. The Duenez family sued and secured a $2.2 million settlement. Arechiga also was one of the organizers behind a 2014 Sacramento demonstration that raised awareness about the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police.
Her March 23 Facebook post, titled “Racist Nurse at Kaiser Roseville,” included pictures of two other comments bearing Linthicum’s name and image. One read: “Can we protest the deaths of all the people shot by black people too”? The other stated: “He’ll (sic) yeah!!! Build that wall Mr. President!! #prototypeshopping”.
Lawyers and workplace consultants said they’ve seen an explosion of cases where their clients must address employees’ social media use, but most of those involve employees verbally attacking supervisors or harassing co-workers in some way. Incidents like this one are still rather extraordinary, they said.
Everything said or done on Facebook is available for other people to view, judge, link to, respond to and document, and it’s traceable for decades to come, said workplace consultant S. Chris Edmonds, author of “The Culture Engine.” As of Friday afternoon, more than 2,000 people had shared Arechiga’s post about Linthicum.
“We are not purely individuals anymore. We are linked to our employers quickly and deeply,” Edmonds said. “And, what we say or do reflects on our employers.”
For this reason, employers increasingly are stressing company values to ensure everyone – employees, customers, suppliers – feels respected, and they’re making it clear through social media policies that those values and behaviors extend to the virtual world.
How should employees respond if they cross those lines and unleash a social media firestorm?
"The mature way is to apologize, immediately," Edmonds said. "Trying to delete the post and pretend it never happened doesn't work when such posts can be copied, shared, etc. so easily." The employer must also apologize, Edmonds said. Depending on the post, suspending the employee - and saying so - might be an appropriate response. If the employee is promoting illegal activities or violence or racism, suspension would be warranted.
Employment attorney Julia L. Jenness said that, while she would advise that the employee be put on administrative leave, she wouldn't recommend sharing that information with the public because it's a personnel matter. She said she would tell a client to publicly state that the allegations were being taken seriously and that an investigation is pending.
Jenness said private employers have the right to determine whether an employee's off-duty conduct is harassing or discriminatory and whether the impact of that behavior bleeds into the employment relationship. Even before social media, she said, it was possible to create a hostile, harassing or discriminatory situation with an action that occurred outside work hours and off company property. There are exceptions, she said. Unionized workers, for example, have the right to criticize as part of their organizing efforts, and public employers typically cannot censor speech.
Many facts of this case are unknown. Jenness said that Kaiser's investigators would have to determine whether the employee's words and actions make her unsuitable for her position.
You have a nurse saying that a man deserved to die, deserved to be shot, deserved to be killed for being stupid, Jenness said. "When you say something like that as a nurse, then it does bring into question whether you are a qualified caregiver," she said.
If an employees' reviews are sterling, if there have been no complaints, and if all that an employer has are comments like those in this case, then the employee likely won't be terminated, Jenness said, and that's especially true for a union employee who has a formal grievance process.
However, Jenness said, Kaiser also must weigh its potential exposure. If there is a future incident and the employer was on notice of a potential bias and took no action, Jenness said, the potential for legal exposure could be worse, and its labor agreements would provide no protection.
Social media activism carries punch
Social media users are using the term #racistsgettingfired on their posts when they make their cases against people or share news articles. According to media reports, here are some recent cases found using that search term:
- In February 2017, a third-grade teacher at Pardes Jewish Day School outside Phoenix resigned after her Twitter responses to an Ann Coulter post were brought to light: “Why depart? (sic) Just kill them,” Bonnie Verne wrote, and then added, “Or we can just put a bullet in their head immediately.”
- After Takuma Sato became the first Japanese driver to take top honors at last May's Indy 500, Denver Post columnist Terry Frei tweeted that he was uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the race. He apologized. The paper did the same – and announced that Frei no longer works at the Post.
- In January, the University of Alabama expelled 19-year-old Harley Barber after she uploaded a video of herself chanting a racial slur referring to African Americans. "I don’t care if it’s Martin Luther King Day," she yelled in the video she posted to an Instagram account under a fake name. Although users limit these so-called Finstagram accounts to an intimate circle of friends, anyone with access can record or photograph what’s there and share it broadly.